The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
Since more and more people keep moving to ‘the suburbs’ from the nineteen fifties onwards, it should not be surprising that these suburbs became more than just a place to live, they also became a prominent cultural topic. Suburban life, also called suburbia, is represented in two famous American novels, The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. “Suburbia” refers to the approach of life during which the individuals within the suburbs live. People are categorized and portrayed in definitive groups, community or class in society. Significant social critique of the suburban myth offered in these two works deals with the struggle of suburban and feminine conformity.
Marriage and homeownership rates increased, It is apparent that many American’s plan was to pursue the “American dream.” Both sets of couples from Revolutionary Road, and The Stepford Wives, only wanted to leave the entrapment of suburban life, more specifically, postwar suburban conformity. It is societal values and gender roles that produce loveless marriage, a failing pursuit for masculinity which leads to a depressing life by men, and restricted feminism at this time.
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Ira Levin’s novel, The Stepford Wives, a satire on fear of feminism in the suburbs. This novel is a piece of literature that isolates the social conflict after World War II; the growing feminine movement in the sixties and early seventies. “That’s what she was, Joanna felt suddenly. That’s what all of them were, the Stepford wives: actresses in commercials, pleased with detergents and floor wax, with cleansers, shampoos, and deodorants. Pretty actresses, big in the bosom but small in the talent, playing housewives unconvincingly, too nicey-nice to be real (Levin, 42).” Suburban life attacks the women’s liberation movement in a very conservative way. Joanna is a symbol of the liberation, while the Men’s Association, is a symbol of traditions. Ira Levin unloads the typical male viewpoint of feminism.
A ‘Stepford Wife’ is the typical, suitable and attractive way for a lady to act in society. Be that as it may, a more profound examination reveals the genuine message covered: the underestimated convictions of how an ideal woman ought to hold herself and behave in the public eye are, in actuality, just belief systems made by patriarchal frameworks by which we enable ourselves to obey.
Men try to play society by creating the perfect wife; subservient, sexbot, housework crazy, and domesticated housewives. These robots and man-made ideals represent women’s standards in the 20th century. Conformed and obedient women were favored during this time of Suburbia. “I like to watch women doing little domestic chores (Levin, 30).” Society is entirely based off of patriarchal values and these values have consistently been able to linger to present time. Women were not “meant” to have outside thoughts and passions, only domesticated ways of thinking. The men of Stepford did not want any of these traits, not a liberated woman. Those are dangerous. They are meant to be subjected to judgement and humanity stripped through being observed within the ‘male gaze’.
Although these books are fiction, they reflect the struggles of suburban reality. Not every man is just born into the Men’s Association – the same in reality. Not every man is born to be sexist or mentally aware of patriarchal teachings. The men of Stepford are men who are sexist, but they seem to be different on the outside. This novel shows that prejudices can be hidden. Walter, Joanna’s husband, did not seem to fit in with the rest of the town of Stepford either. However, with the influence of the Men’s Association, his true colors showed and it became clear that he did truly feel the same as the other men in town.
Nuclear families rose. In this view, a woman assumed a duty in helping society during the Cold War, by keeping the nuclear family solid and perfect on the outside. She could do this best, by staying at home to deal with her husband and children, and declining to seek after a profession.
The 1950s was in various perspectives a time of conformity with stereotypical gender roles. It was additionally a time of progress, when discontent with the norm was rising. Richard Yates portrays the well-known picture of the ideal suburban family- secluded and safe behind their white picket fence, going about their daily routine every day; the dad taking off to work in the city in his suit, the mother, put together nicely, waving off into the sunrise while unloading the family car full of children at school. “Small and wooden, riding high on its naked concrete foundation, its outsized central window staring like a big black mirror (Yates, 40).” Yates’ description of the Wheeler house in Revolutionary Road mirrors this illusion. People left their town housing to measure their excellent life during a suburban area with giant homes on freshly cut lawns; a safe environment to raise children. In Revolutionary Road, it is made clear that this was also Frank and April Wheeler’s main reason to leave New York City and settle down in a suburb in Western Connecticut.
Yates illustrates this when Frank and April arrive to the suburbs. Do you think I have forgotten the time you hit me in the face because I said I wouldn’t forgive you… Look at you and tell me how by any stretch of the imagination you can call yourself a man! (Yates, 29).” Richard Yates really tries to place this young unstable couple in a “picture-perfect” suburban role; providing sufficient knowledge that the characters have no way in sufficiently succeeding in that role. Author, Richard Yates, is critically judging marriage – not really the action of getting married though, but the reasons why some people get married. Just like in the beginning of the novel, all the characters are just like the “Laurel Players” in Petrified Forest– performing roles and unsure of themselves. I believe this novel has foreshadowing. When April finally releases her struggles upon Frank and admits to her lack of love for him, it coincides with “Wouldn’t you like to be loved by me?” This is the underlying conflict every male character has in each piece of literary work listed – they all want to be loved, accepted, and glorified by the woman they love. If they do not, it is a sign of weakness, a diss at their masculinity, and that is something society cannot have.
All her outlandish actions are endeavors to attempts at what little autonomy and control she holds despite the conformity and containment she encounters as a 1950s housewife. She is constantly held back in her endeavors at independence and becomes progressively disappointed; these dissatisfactions develop to her suicide. The devastation of her collapsed revolutionary spirit mirrors the situation by many women during this period of time who battled with offsetting their actual identities with societal desires. April continues to oppose social and gender rules. Likewise, as an audience we can comprehend her suicide as a urgent hold at freedom with regards to American culture fixated on containing its individuals under the pretense of opportunity.
It is apparent that all characters were born into different backgrounds. But, in a sense they all are going through the same self-conflicts in life; discontent, lack of self-esteem, and eager to prove themselves. However, these problems are hidden. It is some sort of society secret that has to be concealed, but everyone already knows. The picture-perfect “white picket fence, happy family, and stable job” is a facade. April, Milly, and the other female characters are discontent with their life – like most women in that era. Frank, just like his father, keeps trying to prove they fit societal norms – even though no one ever challenged it.
Every character believed that they were meant to do great things, be extraordinary. However, they are all hit in the face with realization that they all are just average suburban people. They try so hard to stay conformed to the societal values at that time – housewife that tends to children and husband’s confidence and breadwinner husband. Freshly cut lawns, white fence, and smiley faces. Pop culture and the media fortified messages about conventional gender roles, consumerism, and the Cold War, yet the truth of women’s’ lives did not generally mirror these standards. The two genders upheld strict gender roles and consented to society’s desires.